As 2,000 experts on biodiversity and sustainable development meet this week in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for the 7th conference on the Convention on Biological Diversity (1), one of the world’s most exceptional biodiversity hotspots (2) is being plundered by two of the parties to the conference, Burma and China.
Corrupt deals brokered between wealthy Chinese businessmen and cash-strapped armed insurgent groups are intrinsic to the destructive logging industry in Kachin State, Burma, which is sandwiched between China and India. This area is one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the world due in large part to its forests, but also to its jade, gold and mineral reserves. “Logging in the Kachin State is severe and chaotic, and it is clear that local population has benefited little in economic terms,” said Jon Buckrell from Global Witness (3).
Of particular concern are the forests of the N’Mai Hku area, on the western slopes of the Gaoligongshan, which form a critical watershed for the Irrawaddy River inside Burma’s Kachin State – an area of strategic importance to both Burma and China. While two national nature reserves protect the Chinese side of the mountains, Chinese companies are carrying out large-scale, unregulated logging and mining operations on the Burmese side. “The implications for local communities and the environment will be catastrophic,” said Buckrell. “It is almost inconceivable that the Burmese regime and Chinese authorities have not been involved in approving the deals for the destructive logging and mining business in the N’Mai Hku Project.”
Global Witness’ report ‘A Conflict of Interests: The uncertain future of Burma’s forests’ (4) documents the rampant logging of large swathes of pristine forest in Kachin State carried out by Chinese companies. Global Witness estimates that the volume of timber exported from Kachin State to the Chinese border province of Yunnan is in the region of 600,000 m3 a year, worth approximately US$150 million.
The exploitation of Kachin’s forests has risen to alarming levels as a consequence of ceasefire arrangements between the Burmese regime and local insurgent groups, combined with a growing demand for timber in China and a countrywide logging ban in China, which has increased the demand for Burmese timber. Flooding exacerbated by deforestation caused $36 billion damage in China in 1998. The Chinese authorities responded by imposing a logging ban, and increased conservation efforts, including the protection of the Gaoligongshan Mountains in Yunnan Province.
“It appears that China’s concern for the environment ends at the border,” said Buckrell. “China must suspend logging activities in Burma immediately and place a moratorium on the cross border trade in timber. It is crucial that the N’Mai Hku Project is halted immediately: people’s livelihoods are being destroyed. This will allow time for proper planning to ensure the preservation of the area’s outstanding biodiversity. It is imperative that the forests are used for the benefit of the people of Kachin State.
“China has started to protect its own environment. We simply call on them to apply the same principles to their activities in Burma.”
Notes to Editors
Contact Global Witness’ Burma team on 020 7561 6366 for further information.
1. The 7th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 7) takes place 9 - 20 February 2004, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the highest decision-making body of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Among the priority issues for COP 7 is the biological diversity of mountain ecosystems, as well as significantly reducing the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2010.For further information see www.biodiv.org/meetings/cop-07/.
2. The mountain forests of Kachin State form part of an area said to be “very possibly the most diverse, rich temperate area on earth”. Source: Howell, K.K., California Academy of Sciences, from http://www.calacademy.org/calwild/2001winter/stories/china2.html
3. Global Witness is a British-based non-governmental organisation, which focuses on the links between natural resource exploitation and conflict.
4. Global Witness has recently published the report ‘A Conflict of Interests: The uncertain future of Burma’s forests’. This is the result of extensive research and fieldwork within Burma, Thailand and China, and examines the roots of civil war and details the links between conflict, and the control of natural resources in Burma. ‘A Conflict of Interests’ sets out for the first time in detail the history of logging in Burma, the reality of current logging by the ruling military regime (the SPDC), logging by insurgent groups, rampant logging in cease fire areas, and the cross-border trade in particular with China. The report can be downloaded for free from Global Witness’ website, www.globalwitness.org.
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Press Release / Feb. 12, 2004